CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Auburn’s John Franklin III may not be completely done playing QB after all

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Auburn quarterback-turned-wideout John Franklin III may not be completely done taking snaps behind center after all.

The Tigers’ new offensive coordinator tipped that the speedy receiver likely would be the best option to fill the team’s emergency quarterback spot in 2017 while speaking to AL.com during a meeting with a booster club over the weekend.

“I think he definitely could be (the emergency option), for sure,” Chip Lindsey told the site. “He’s done it his whole life, so I think he could definitely do that if we needed him to, for sure.”

Auburn suffered a host of injuries at the position last season, which prompted some extended playing time for Franklin as he appeared in all 13 games of the 2016 campaign and threw for 204 yards and a touchdown. He was moved to wide receiver during spring practice following the arrival of highly touted Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham and seems likely he’ll see the bulk of the action catching passes during the year instead of throwing them.

However, transfers out of the Plains have changed the equation a little bit at quarterback for Auburn. On top of former starter Sean White still recovering from a broken arm, redshirt freshman Woody Barrett decided to move to a JUCO and fellow backup Tyler Queen dropped all the way down to a Division II school this offseason. That leaves just Stidham and White with any experience at the position this year and true freshman Malik Willis behind them on the depth chart.

You can bet that Lindsey and head coach Gus Malzahn want to preserve Willis’ redshirt in 2017 so it certainly makes sense to have Franklin slot in behind the team’s unquestioned top two quarterbacks if either were to go down with an injury. Even if everybody stays healthy, it seems likely we’ll even get to see Franklin in a few Wildcat packages for the Tigers given his skillset so his days behind center don’t appear to be fully over just yet.

Ex-UCF lineman sues athletic department over use of his name and likeness

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Central Florida is involved in yet another lawsuit with a former player only this time it’s over the use of a former lineman’s likeness.

Jah Reid, who played at UCF from 2006-10, has sued the school’s non-profit athletics association as well as a separate corporation led by football coach Scott Frost for “improper use of his likeness,” the Orlando Sentinel  reports. He is apparently seeking some $200,000 in royalties and a whopping $600,000 in damages over the case.

At the heart of the matter is apparently how Frost’s summer camps advertised using Reid’s likeness to promote it to future recruits. The former offensive lineman’s picture was reportedly used and the lawsuit brings up the fact that a brochure used the line: “come to camp and have a chance to earn an offer like Jah Reid.”

Reid did not play for Frost during his time on the team and instead was recruited and coached by former Knights coach George O’Leary. Reid was later drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and is currently a member of the Kansas City Chiefs organization heading into the 2017 season.

The use of an athlete’s name and likeness have been litigated quite in recent years, notably in the O’Bannon vs. NCAA case that continues to make its way through the court system. It will be interesting to see if the Reid lawsuit against UCF even makes it to trial in light of that or if the parties eventually settle out of court before it gets to that point.

Either way, probably not the offseason news that Frost and the UCF athletics brass wanted to see this summer.

Former Alabama coach Gene Stallings recovering after suffering slight stroke last week

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Scary news out of Alabama as former Crimson Tide head coach Gene Stallings reportedly suffered a slight stroke last week.

According to AL.com, Stallings was attending a charity golf tournament dinner on Thursday honoring former his player and assistant coach Dabo Swinney when he felt ill. He was eventually hospitalized in Montgomery later that night and diagnosed with a slight stroke after losing peripheral vision in his right eye.

“Bottom line is I’m not supposed to do anything for five, six weeks,” Stallings told the paper after returning to his home in Texas.

The College Football Hall of Famer coached Alabama to the 1992 national title and previously won a Super Bowl as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. Stallings is a regular discussing the Tide in recent years during various radio and TV appearances and played a key role in starting Swinney’s coaching career before the latter eventually wound up winning a national title of his own with Clemson this past season.

Hopefully the veteran coach gets well soon as he recovers from the scary incident in Montgomery last week.

Former Oregon RB set to attempt football comeback… at Oregon State

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The next edition of the Civil War could feature a familiar face for fans of both sides of Oregon’s famous rivalry.

Oregonian columnist John Canzano reports that former Oregon Ducks tailback Thomas Tyner is set to return from a medical retirement from football and will instead be headed up the road to Corvallis in order to join Oregon State’s backfield in 2017:

Tyner requested his release from the University of Oregon on Friday. At 9 a.m. on Saturday morning it became official and the former five-star running back who once rushed for 644 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in a single game for Aloha High School prepared to talk with Beavers coach Gary Andersen about playing for OSU next season.

“I’ve wanted to be a Beaver my whole life,” Tyner said.

It seems there’s still plenty to sort out when it comes to the NCAA and becoming eligible for the upcoming season but Tyner seems pretty set on returning to the football field where he once made a name for himself. One of the few five-star prospects to prep in the Beaver State, the running back was a key member of the backfield rotation and rushed for 1,284 yards and 14 touchdowns over two seasons with the Ducks.

Shoulder injuries prevented him from getting back on the field however and it was later announced that he was retiring from the game. It seems the itch to play was just to great though and hence we have this rather interesting comeback attempt at a Pac-12 rival. Canzano notes that Tyner couldn’t play for the Ducks if he wanted because he took that medical retirement and NCAA rules prevent a return, so it’s Beavers or bust in 2017 and beyond for the running back.

If everything does sort itself out eventually and Tyner shows flashes of his former self, he could turn OSU into one of the best backfields on the West Coast. Ryan Nall is already an established, quality starter and he could form a nice thunder-and-lightning tandem with the speedy Tyner for the rebuilding Beavers. Either way, best to circle November 25th on your calendar and tune in for the annual Civil War (in Eugene this year, no less) because it could feature one player who is as intimately familiar with the opponent as he is with his own team.